By MARSHA MERCER
Sons of famous politicians enjoy the benefit of family name and wealth, but they also carry the burden of knowing their fathers’ mistakes.
George W. Bush learned from his dad the toxicity of the categorical pledge: “Read my lips. No new taxes.”
Mitt Romney, no master communicator, has avoided the kind of verbal misstep that doomed his father’s dreams of the White House.
In 1967, presidential candidate George Romney explained why he backed the war in Vietnam before opposing it. He said that during his visit in 1965, the generals and the diplomatic corps brainwashed him. What Romney thought was a throw-away line followed him to the grave.
Three decades later, Romney’s obituary in The New York Times said of the three-term Michigan governor who had been president of American Motors that “as a politician on the national stage, he seemed wooden,” and “the perception grew, fairly or not, that he was a witless candidate with his foot in his mouth.”
George Romney represented “the liberal wing of the Republican Party, supporting civil rights initiatives and government social programs and opposing the war in Vietnam,” the Times wrote.
Today’s political landscape could hardly be more different. Saturation news coverage magnifies every silly thing any candidate says, liberal Republicans have gone the way of the dinosaur, and Romney’s son is begging Republicans to overlook the inconvenient truth that he’s richer, whiter and bluer of blood than most Americans.
On Super Tuesday, Romney continued his slow slog with wins in five states, making it almost impossible for anyone else to surpass him in delegates.
But while Romney, who will be 65 on March 12, underwhelms voters, at least nobody thinks he’s witless. Pragmatists believe he’s the party’s best hope of beating Obama.
Eventually, Romney will have a chance his dad never did. His first big decision once he finally captures the nomination will be his running mate. He can make a safe, boring choice or he can seize the moment and do something bold.
Among the names on veepstakes short lists are Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, and Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Remember that name, Susana Martinez.
Obama named the first Latina to the Supreme Court, but Romney could reach out to Hispanic and women voters by naming a Latina as his running mate. In doing so, Romney could reset the race and demonstrate that he understands working people as well as he does owners of NASCAR teams and multiple Cadillacs.
Susana Martinez, 52, the nation’s first Latina governor, was born in El Paso, Tex., into a solid, middle-class family. With just $400, her parents started a security guard business. She worked as a security guard while attending the University of Texas at El Paso. Her law degree is from the University of Oklahoma.
Martinez has strong law-and-order credentials from 14 years as a state district attorney in southern New Mexico. Her husband is a former law enforcement officer, and her stepson is a Navy vet and firefighter.
If her resume is thin – she was elected governor only in 2010 – Martinez, a conservative Republican in a Democratic state, enjoys some of the highest job approval ratings in the country.
“What makes Martinez’s numbers so noteworthy is that she’s doing it as a Republican in a state that voted for Barack Obama by 15 points in 2008 and appears ready to do so again,” the Public Policy Polling organization reported on its blog in December.
It’s worth noting that in 2008 Hispanics supported Obama more than 2 to 1 over McCain, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of national exit polls.
Whether Romney will choose Martinez is complicated by the pesky coincidence that just four years ago the Republican presidential candidate, hoping to energize his campaign, plucked a spirited, first-term female governor from obscurity as his running mate.
For the record, Martinez says it’s humbling to be mentioned, but she’s only interested in serving her state. All potential vice presidents say that.
Romney still could shake up this presidential race. A bold stroke could be just a phone call away.
© 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.